The walk out to surgery. A very simple mind-trick to erase fight nerves and fear.
I recently had my ACL reconstruction surgery and thanks to several elements and factors, I have gained a small but significant insight which may help those who are affected by nerves before walking into the cage. In this short piece I will share the simple strategy which could help you erase nerves and anxiety before a fight.
I was lucky enough to be in one of the best hospitals in Europe where I received top class treatment and service and this helped me stay relaxed before the operation. Probably because of my keenness to fight, my mind could not help it but relate every aspect of this experience to fighting. I started to notice (or make up in my mind) similarities between being there for my surgery and being in an arena for a match. Things like waiting around, trying to relax like you would do on fight day, seeing other patients go in for their surgery like you would see other athletes go out for their fight and others come back from an operation like fighters coming back from their fight. These and other mind games of the kind made me want to learn something from the experience that I could then use in MMA.
Having been a mind coach for a long time, I have always been able to channel fight nerves and set the most ideal mental attitude before a fight dealing with nerves and fear almost unconsciously, without thinking about it too much. This time was different though as, although in my mind I created the fantasy of being in for a fight instead of a surgery, I knew full well that the reality consisted of a bunch of doctors who would soon put me to sleep, cut, drill, screw and stitch me back up. So fear and nerves did kick-in in a way that is probably similar to fight fear and nerves. So here is what I did to use that fear and nerves to my advantage.
You cannot ignore fear
If you try to ignore something, that something will be even more prominent in your mind; for example, try real hard not to think of a pink house, really try not to imagine a pink house your mind and you will find that a pink house will pop into your mind. You then have to decide to change one or more elements of that house or think about something else instead. Easier than try not to think of something, is to turn that thought into something we can use.
How to use it
So what I did was to use the Neuro Associations technique to remember a state where I felt extremely determined and fired-up to do something and I then forced myself to feel that same feeling everytime I felt the fear. Since I knew that no matter what, I would have had to have the surgery, just like you know that you will have that fight, every time the thought of fear, anxiety or nerves would come into my head, I would think of that determined and fired-up state and physically behave as if I was truly living that state. Obviously it was not possible to physically manifest that state fully as people would have probably thought I was crazy but, in my mind, I would elicit the same thoughts that I had in that heighten fired-up state and use my body language to match that state as best as I could. This can be accomplished with the technique described in The Power of Neuro Associations.
You could say that I BSed myself! That’s right, you could say that I deceived myself from the real scenario to a daydream where I was fired-up and I was going to “beat the fear”, “beat the surgery”. And that is exactly what I did! This is what it’s all about and it is also all you need to do to change the feelings that a thought gives you when these feelings are not empowering and/or useful to help you perform at your best. Just like when you dream, you don’t need to actually live the dream for your body to experience the feelings, your body experiences most of the feelings when you dream even though you are in laying down your bed. Remember that for your mind, what you imagine is real even though the reality might not be what’s in your mind.
Obviously, this mind trick of mine did not take any of the cons out of the situation; I still had the surgery, I still woke up feeling sick for the drugs and I still felt the pain. My mind game which deceived my nervous system before the op did not take any of the post-op consequences away but it took all of the pre-op stress, anxiety, nerves and bad feelings out of the experience. Thanks to this mind game, not once did I feel fearful, not once did I (whether consciously or unconsciously) looked for excuses to try and avoid the event (surgery in this case or a fight in other cases) and I genuinely enjoyed the whole experience a lot more.
If you are the kind of athlete who does not feel any nerves or fear before a fight and are able to be focused, serene and happy before every fight, then you need nothing at all and this article only serves your entertainment. If on the other hand you feel that the fear and the nerves before each fight stop you form 1. enjoying all aspects of the experience and 2. perform as well as you could have during the fight, then you I strongly recommend that you read this article one more time and learn to turn your feelings into empowering and motivating ones.
You could use Neuro Associations to link the thoughts of fear or nerves to an experience when you felt great, confident, relaxed and self-assured. This will not necessarily change the outcome of the fight but it will allow you to enjoy the build-up to it a lot more, warm up better and it will also allow you to remain more focused and relaxed. All of this could in turn help you fight a better fight.